2015 Hyundai Genesis Prototype First Drive
Exodus: The second chapter for Korea’s Lexus.
That title line may seem like a cheap Old Testament gag, but there’s rich double-entendre. Hyundai’s gen-2 2015 Hyundai Genesis, you see, represents a big departure from the days when the Korean value-brand timidly begged for a place at the big-boy table. When the plain-but-vaguely-ritzy Concept Genesis first appeared at the Detroit show in 2007, the company prayed its rear-drive newbie’s premium-class features, refinement, and discounted price might lure a few Mercedes/BMW/Lexus buyers who didn’t care that snooty valets would never park their car in front. The Genesis never hit the original Lexus LS’ numbers, but sales growth has been steady and the car paved the way for the swankier Equus.
The widow’s-weeds Genesis launched in 2009 alongside the Technicolor-Dreamcoat Sonata. Sonata’s “Fluidic Sculpture” look marked the end of the company’s “fast-follower” design approach (quickly tooling new models to resemble the most recent design leaders) and achieved widespread critical acclaim, quickly propagating across the model lineup. Now Fluidic Sculpture 2.0, previewed by the recent HCD-14 concept, arrives on the 2015 Genesis. Design chief Casey Hyun says it “tells its story with fewer lines and greater contrast of surfacing for a more voluptuous look.” Proportion is also crucial. Overall length increases just 0.2 inch on a 3-inch longer wheelbase, shrinking the front overhang by 1.6 inches and the rear by 1.2 (width and height are unchanged). Moving the front wheels forward and the windshield aft heightens the long-hood/cab-rear look, adding about 10 grand to the car’s perceived price.
Some may actually buy this car just for its looks, but to earn the business of more objective buyers, the engineering team expended biblical efforts on the car’s ride and handling development, optimizing everything from aerodynamics, to engine mounts, to body structure. Speaking of the latter, boosting the percentage of ultra-high-strength steel from 13.8 to 51.5 percent (fancy steel is affordable since Hyundai owns its own steel company) stiffens the body shell by 27.5 percent in torsion and 43.2 percent in bending (reportedly exceeding the BMW 5 in both measures). Reinforcing the engine compartment with braces from the shock tower to both the firewall and the radiator support reportedly contribute heavily to steering responsiveness.
As for actual suspension tinkering, the tuning of the Benz-esque five-link front setup has been thoroughly rethought using lessons learned from competitive benchmarking on the company’s suspension kinematics rig, while out back , ateral stiffness gets a 39-percent boost (reportedly exceeding BMW 5 Series and the Mercedes E-Class) to sharpen dynamic response. And while the previous car’s jounce and rebound rates were nearly identical, the new car employs stiffer rebound tuning. These two-mode shocks contribute to roll-control instead of leaving that job entirely up to the anti-roll bars which can result in head-toss. Hyundai’s first rack-mounted belt-driven electric power steering is paired with a variable-ratio rack that ramps steering angle up much more quickly just off lock, so it remains sneeze-proof in a straight line, but effort and direction change ramp up faster off center. The longer wheelbase also improves weight distribution by a percent to 52/48 front rear.
HTRAC all-wheel-drive is new (see earlier story here), employing a torque-distributing wet-clutch center diff that typically splits torque 40/60 front/rear, but can go to 90/10 under extremely slippery conditions, or 10/90 in Sport mode during handling maneuvers. There is also an eco-friendly 0/100 mode. Engine changes are minimal, with the direct-injected 3.8-liter V-6 and 5.0-liter V-8 engines and Hyundai-designed eight-speed automatic transmission carrying over largely intact, though standard shift paddles and sport-mode mapping have been added.
Hyundai’s fuel-economy efforts could have used some Revelation. With blue-chip rivals slashing mass, downsizing and pressurizing engines, and offering diesels, Genesis risks standing still or improving only slightly. While the stiffer steel allows this enlarged and stronger body to shed 33 pounds, using aluminum for the doors, hood and trunk-lid would have slashed far more weight (except Hyundai doesn’t own an aluminum smelter -- yet). The body may be lighter, but adding features two-by-two means this ark gained about 130 pounds (not counting HTRAC’s 140 lbs.).
Automatic emergency braking applies full stopping power if the radar and camera sensors predict a collision under 50 mph, or taps the binders to warn of trouble above that speed. Lane-keeping assist offers three operating modes: vibrate the wheel to warn of wandering, steer to stay in the lane, or steer back into the lane after departing it. The decklid opens when the fob loiters behind the car for three seconds—no Ford foot waving required, and soft-close doors are optional. A huge 9-inch color head-up display shows nav directions and blind-spot warnings along with the typical speed and cruise settings. A CO2 sensor disables recirc mode at 2500 parts/million to prevent drowsiness. A standard 8-inch or optional 9.2-inch 720p high-def touch-screen (with the optional 17-speaker Lexicon stereo) both support internet radio and SIRI voice searching (when paired with iOS devices). Finally, the classier interior offers five color schemes and five types of wood for greater personalization.
How’s it drive? Judging from a very brief proving-ground spin in pilot-built examples (a rear-drive 3.8 and an all-wheel 5.0) driven back-to-back with a first-gen Genesis, a 535i, and an E350 4Matic, the car looks, feels, and drives like a bigger car (it is 3.5-4.7 inches longer and an inch-plus wider than the Germans) and its interior seems more deluxe. The V-6 feels smoother than the BMW’s I-6, but neither Hyundai engine felt as quick as that twin-turbo. The Genesis’ eight-speed shifts smoother than either German but was reluctant to downshift, even when using the paddles, which may be a pre-production calibration issue. Two laps of an unfamiliar handling circuit provided no solid conclusions, but the level of body roll and steering feedback didn’t exactly scream “sport sedan.”
But just because Hyundai is calling the Genesis a sport sedan and comparing it with autobahn-stormers doesn’t mean we need to. I suspect the 2015 Genesis will be an even more delightful car to drive at about six-tenths than the current car is, and that—along with its dashing design—could be enough to inspire some religious fervor on the sales charts.
The Genesis is expected to debut officially at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show in January.